By John Connor, American Handgunner
There are a half-dozen time-honored sayings about the verity and importance of “first impressions” and I kinda-sorta agree with them — most of the time. But sometimes, well …
My assignment to test SIG’s P290RS came outta the blue and I didn’t have time for study before the package arrived. Opening it, my first impressions went like this: (1) Huh. Kind of a fat little fish for a .380, ain’t it? (2) Whoa! That’s a long, hefty trigger pull! (3) What’s with this goofy barrel? Looks like a funnel out of a kid’s chemistry set.
Now, after two shooting sessions and over 500 rounds downrange, let’s fast-forward to about “Impression #8”: I’m at the workbench with micrometer, trigger pull gauge, postal scale and so on. The P290RS is in front of me. To my right is one of those 9.5-ounce mini-micro-compact .380’s I call baby piranhas, because like little fish, they’re always tryin’ to squirt right outta my hand, and like piranhas, they bite! On my left is one of my SIG P250 Compact 9mm’s. Like the P290RS, it’s a hammer-fired DAO pistol with re-strike capability, but of course considerably larger — a true 15-round “compact.”
I’m just making some comparisons when this occurs to me — a dual-experiment situation: If I could take that 9.5-ounce piranha, tweak the geometry and add just enough size, mass, weight, barrel length and so on to make it stable in the hand, accurate and comfortable to shoot repeatedly, and if, at the same time I took the P250, chambered it in .380 and commenced reducing its proportions, mass, weight and barrel length right up to the point of diminishing returns … I think both ways I’d wind up within a percentage point or two of replicating the P290RS. So now let’s look at how I got from that first impression to #8, okay?
The P290RS in a more normal-sized hand; one measuring 7″ from heel of hand to tip of middle finger.
Not too big, not too small, but just right: SIG’s subcompact P290RS is a prime platform for the latest high-performance .380 ACP rounds.
From the Outside In
Sights are service-pistol-sized tritium-illuminated SIGLITE’s, not toy-sized afterthoughts. They’re drift-adjustable for windage, and if your selected load doesn’t shoot to point-of-aim in elevation, different heights are available from SIG SAUER. They’re triple-effect sights: First, crisp and blocky, with good daylight between the front post and rear U-notch; second, tritium lamps for use in darkness, and third, there are bright white rings around the tritium lamps for three-dot enhanced acquisition under “in-between” conditions. Nice, huh?
The slide is 416 stainless, offered in a satin finish or a tough black Nitron coating. Machined beveling and contours are very well done, and the slide-manipulation serrations are large, deep and effective. At rest, the bobbed hammer protrudes slightly from the back of the slide with very little gap on the sides. The slide lock lever is grooved for fumble-free operation, but lies very close to the frame for a virtually zero snag-factor.
On the right side of the frame, the blind end of the slide lock pin sits in a dished recess to prevent it from being knocked loose by side impact. Slide cycling is light and smooth, requiring very little strength — a big plus for many shooters who find stiff springs difficult to operate.
The frame is black polymer — or hot pink, if you like — and highly ergonomic. Stippling on the frontstrap and backstrap is slightly coarser than the stippling on the flush-fitting grip side plates, which is exactly as it should be. Those slim grip panels are changeable by removing a pin at the rear of the grip and sliding them down and out. Optional grip plates come in aluminum, wood grain and more.
At the bottom of the grip note the cut-out areas which mate with raised areas on the magazine base plates. Our mags didn’t just drop free, they popped free. But if for some reason you get a sluggish or sticky “drop,” those cutouts provide a better grasp to yank ’em out. The base plate of the 6-round mag has a projecting lip which stabilizes a “two fingers below the triggerguard” grip, while the 8-round mag accommodates a full grip including the pinky for even large hands. The magazine release is well placed for easy, positive master-hand operation.
See that funny lump inside the triggerguard? It’s another SIG-smart “human engineering” touch. They made the triggerguard big enough for rapid entry with a fat or gloved finger, but that ski-jump bump nudges the firing-finger up away from the hook and right into the sweet spot. You’ll also find a removable teardrop-shaped rubber bump on the bottom of the dust cover. That seals the locking point for SIG’s precise-fitting optional aiming laser. You can order the pistol factory-equipped with it, or add the laser later.
SIG’s included OWB holster was secure and fast. Shown is a comfortable, close-fitting IWB rig by N82 Tactical.
Simple Is Good
Inside, parts are simple, strong and few, but loaded with sophisticated efficiency. The action is a short-recoil operated, modified Browning-type mechanically locked design, but two features make that lock-up even better and lend themselves to excellent accuracy. First, the top of the chamber area of the barrel is machined to lock up precisely into the ejection port when closed. Second, the bell-shaped flare at the muzzle end of the barrel mates snugly with a corresponding interior space in the slide. The effect is like that of a match-grade fitted muzzle bushing, but simpler. Another benefit of that combination is better sealing to keep dirt and debris out; an important consideration for a pocket-or-purse carried piece.
For a point-and-squeeze pistol it’s remarkably safe. An automatic firing pin safety blocks the pin unless the trigger is pulled, a disconnector prevents the hammer from dropping if the slide is out of battery, you can’t begin disassembly without opening the slide and finally, that longish trigger pull is a safety feature in itself.
Disassembly and reassembly are simple, and SIG includes two tools to make it even easier. As with many other designs, you pull the slide to the rear to align the slide stop notch with the slide stop tab, then, while holding it in position, push the slide stop out of the frame from the right side. But you don’t have to hold it there. SIG supplies a directionally marked plastic tool you simply drop into the ejection port, and then close the slide on it. It holds the slide and barrel precisely in position. Then, remember how the blind end of the slide stop pin is dished into a recess? The end of the included chamber safety flag is sized to push it out almost effortlessly without marring the frame. Nice.
Next page please…
I was impressed with the design features and execution, and the little pistol oriented in my hand very naturally, pointing true and balancing nicely. The only questions remaining were its accuracy, behavior under recoil, and how well I could shoot it más rápido, with that long DAO trigger pull? I have lots of experience with tuned DA revolvers, and the SIG P250’s pull is very similar — and I like it enough to have purchased a matched pair and put them in my “ready rotation.” But those are larger handguns, and this one’s very small.
Parts are few, strong and simple, and SIG includes two tools to make disassembly easy.
That flared muzzle locks neatly and precisely into the slide like a match-grade bushing. And, those full-sized SIGLITE sights, big aggressive slide grooves and
excellent machining and finishing work distinguish the P290RS.
The Hand & The Range
The answer proved simple: Put more finger on it — and roll your stroke revolver-style. When shooting the P250, the center of the pad of my trigger finger naturally falls in the center of the trigger. With the P290RS, the crease of my first joint lands on the trigger. It’s similar — but different. It ain’t ideal form, but it’s not bad either. Size XL gloves fit me snug or too tight, if that helps your perspective. All it took for me was familiarization and repetition.
The trigger pull gauged at 8 pounds. It could lose a pound and I wouldn’t mind, but on a subcompact pocket pistol it should be no lighter. Function was flawless across the board. It ran so smoothly I almost forgot to insert this comment.
The best thing you can do with this pistol is shoot it a lot — and that’s easy to do, because it’s comfortable to shoot, recoil impulse is low, recoil effect is negligible, accuracy is just fine and after about the first 50 rounds your results quickly improve with every magazine-load you put through it.
Here’s an illustration: Toward the end of testing, I ran a series of drills on Birchwood Casey B-27 reduced-size silhouette targets at 7 yards, 1-handed, with shots cadenced about one per second. The heads are less than 3.5″ wide, compared to standard gourds being 8″ to 9″ across. I’d fire six at the head, reload fast with the extended mag and put eight into center mass. The noggin-groups ran around 2″ and the boiler-room barrages ran 3″ to 4″. I almost giggled — and I don’t giggle. Try that with a 9.5 piranha.
Price is about $513 MSRP and the whole caboddle weighs around 16.4 ounces with the mag.
At home I pulled my 5-shot small-frame .38 Special outta my jacket pocket. It’s the same height as the P290, but thicker at the grip and overall, due to the cylinder. It is 1.5″ longer, and its barrel is less than 2″ versus the P290’s 2.9″ tube. The sights don’t even bear comparison.
Guess who lives in that pocket now?
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